That's what you call 'snark infested'

GetReligion doesn't usually deal with columns, but sometimes a columnist will cover (or attempt to cover) something newsworthy.

Enter Petula Dvorak, who recently wrote on a pharmacy that went out of business last month. This was not your average Walgreens pharmacy. It didn't offer birth control pills, condoms, cigarettes or pornography, and the Post covered its 2008 opening with a basic news story by Rob Stein. Gear up for some back-handed commentary as you read Dvorak's take.

The Divine Mercy Care Pharmacy in Chantilly proudly and purposefully limited what it would stock on its shelves. But it turns out that no birth control pills, no condoms, no porn, no tobacco and even no makeup added up to one thing:

No customers.

The self-described "pro-life" pharmacy went out of business last month, less than two years after it opened to great fanfare, with a Catholic priest sprinkling holy water on the strip-mall store tucked between an Asian supermarket and a scuba shop.

No word on whether he returned for last rites.

The drugstore was one of a handful across the country that have put the moral conviction of a pharmacist at the forefront of a business. And as a business model, that's fine, I guess.

Her attempts at cleverness read more like juvenile stabs to me. Buried beneath her commentary, we find out that the store faced pretty basic competition with at least two drugstores within walking distance. Okay, so what makes this drugstore worth writing about in her mind?

The Chantilly pharmacy opened as an offshoot of Divine Mercy Care in Fairfax and the Tepeyac Family Center, which adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

It opened amid a string of well-publicized incidents in the United States and abroad in which pharmacists refused to fill women's prescriptions for birth control or the morning-after pill and, in some cases, refused to refer the women to another pharmacist or return the prescription to her.

Okay, I'm on the edge of my seat. Tell me the humiliation women faced as they entered this Chantilly pharmacy.

When it opened, the folks at Divine Mercy Care said they also wouldn't refer patients elsewhere. But in their nearly two years in business, there were no reported incidents of women turned away, humiliated or scolded. Bruchalski said they were very careful to advertise exactly who they were and what they believed.

Still, it always seemed a bit out of place. In a shopping area where women in colorful saris pass by spiky-haired kids looking at anime books and people dropping hounds at doggie day camp, and where so many languages, nationalities, colors and sizes blend, a business that relied on restriction rather than openness did not quite fit.

The writer's drummed up drama fell a bit flat, didn't it? She stood outside the pharmacy taking an informal poll but offering little substance. Why not quote women in colorful saris to see what they thought of the store? Why not find out how many Catholic parishes there are in the area to find out the potential market? Bear with me as we trudge through some more sarcasm.

Shoppers in Northern Virginia apparently weren't clamoring for a place to pick up cough medicine that also didn't sell porn, cigs and mascara. Selections of these wicked products (especially mascara -- have you seen the array recently? Glittery! Lengthening! Stiletto lashes! Such naughtiness!) are available in just about every supermarket and big-box store across the country.

Seriously, would this column had passed through her editor if she were writing about a Muslim pharmacy? We would probably find it pretty disrespectful.

Perhaps Divine Mercy was doomed by its competition, or maybe, despite the Sunday Mass boosterism of the Divine Mercy business, Northern Virginia Catholics aren't as pro-life the rest of the week.

Research conducted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops estimated that only 4 percent of married, Catholic couples use natural family planning.

And as anyone who has been to church lately knows, many Catholic women also use mascara.

Profound conclusion.

I wish the Post would take the news a little bit more seriously like Julia Duin of the Washington Times. Duin's story doesn't go into too much detail, but it gives a little better picture of the potential market for the pharmacy. Duin reports that the 1,500-square-foot store opened 18 months ago (in the middle of the recession) at $350,000 (basic facts missing from the Post column).

Situated next to a Catholic bookstore, the founders hoped to attract clientele from St. Timothy and St. Veronica, two nearby Catholic parishes totaling 20,000 members. Within five miles were four other booming churches with 30,000 Catholics. And it was situated in the fast-growing Diocese of Arlington with 428,417 adherents.

But regular customers never materialized in great numbers.

...most customers only needed occasional medications and DMC never connected, he said, with patients needing the kind of maintenance medications that are the bread and butter for most pharmacies.

Plus, DMC never got into the heavy retail items, such as cosmetics, toys and fast food, that help keep similar pharmacies afloat. It did develop a mail-order business that, by the time the pharmacy closed, comprised almost 50 percent of the practice.

Whether the neighborhood needed a pharmacy with moral conviction (Post) or just wasn't serving the market (Times), who knows? From a basic reporting standpoint, the Times wins this round.

Perhaps the columnist could take a story like this and argue for something a little more thoughtful. Maybe she could have explored whether religious stores in general are facing difficult times. For instance, I'm guessing that like independent bookstores, religious bookstores are finding it difficult to stay open. Are religious groups more likely to make a statement through what they purchase rather than where they purchase it? With that thing we call the Internet, is it becoming useless to boycott stores or set up religious versions since we have so many options available? Do we care about where we buy something (eBay, Amazon, Craigslist) as long as we get the product we're looking for? Unfortunately, Dvorak's snide commentary smothered a story that had potential for more food for thought.

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